Project Ara: The Future of Phones?
Have you ever dropped your phone and discovered, to your devastation, that the screen has cracked beyond all recognition? Or perhaps you’ve shelled out tonnes of cash on a phone that was top-of-the-range at the time, only for a better model to be released six months later? I’ve been there, and I’m sure many others have too. Normally, these issues would not only be costly, but it would mean getting rid of a phone because you can’t easily change one part of your phone.
Well, this is where Project Ara steps in.
Project Ara is Google’s effort to create a modular phone that can be customised in potentially limitless ways. The main ‘endoskeleton’ of the phone body has slots that can accommodate modules of various sizes. These modules, which are held in using magnets, each provide the phone with a different function (such as Wi-Fi, speaker, battery, and so on). This means that you can slide in and out different modules according to your needs.
For example, budding photographers will be able to easily opt for a high-spec camera, whereas phone junkies could easily install a huge battery to cater to their obsessive browsing and messaging habits. It also gives users the options to leave out unimportant parts – so they don’t have to include a Wi-Fi slot if they don’t use their phone to browse the internet, and could instead include a bigger speaker.
A promotional photo of Project Ara phones, including their modules
This ease of switching modules is also important if you happen to break something in the phone. If you smash the screen, you’d normally have to either replace your whole phone or get it repaired. Not any more – simply slide out the damaged screen and slide a new one in its place. This could save a lot of time, money, and hassle. This is also true of any parts that get a bit old and need an upgrade in order for optimal performance.
The modules will be available on their own marketplace, in a similar way the Google Play Store is currently run, and will allow both large manufacturers and small developers to contribute modules to the project. This has encouraged several companies to exhibit interesting prototype or concept modules already, ranging from a high-quality speaker with multiple audio inputs to a heart rate monitor and breathalyser. These modules would completely change the function of a mobile phone and could be incredibly beneficial in developing more portable technology that can be used more widely in hobbies and professions.
A concept image of Phonebloks, which inspired Project Ara.
Project Ara, which is based on Dave Hakkens’ “Phonebloks” concept, aims to increase the longevity of phones through the ability to upgrade and replace individual parts as and when needed. It’s also touted as being “designed exclusively for 6 billion people”, which is an incredibly ambitious goal. Though there is no set market launch date as of yet, a market pilot is due to take place in Puerto Rico in the second half of this year, so it’ll be interesting to see whether the project is a hit – it could indicate whether Project Ara is better in concept than reality, or whether it’s set to shake up the market for good.
What do you think? Would you buy a modular phone?